The Shaping of Southern Social Standards for Southern Markets: the case of Trustea

  • Natalie Langford

Student thesis: Phd


Under processes of globalisation, the regulation and governance of social standards has increasingly been instigated by private, as well as public actors. The multi-stakeholder initiative (MSI) has emerged as a prominent model through which social standards are governed. Long established in the global North, MSIs governing social standards are emerging within the global South. The primary aim of this thesis is to understand the ways in which multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) governing Southern social standards for Southern markets have been shaped in the context of the Indian tea industry. MSIs are institutions in which lead firms and civil society organisations (CSOs) cooperate in an effort to improve the social conditions of workers and producers in global production networks (GPNs). The vast majority of MSIs have been developed in order to govern social standards for workers and producers based in the global South who supply firms in the global North. Thus, our current understanding has tended to focus on an analysis of how global and local interests intersect, contradict or complement each other on a North South axis. The emergence of Southern social standards in recent years raises new questions regarding the drivers behind the development of MSIs in emerging markets. In particular, it raises key questions concerning the changing balance of power between actors from the North and South as Southern MSIs emerging in the global South interlink with those in the global North. Given that these standards are developing under a significant growth in South-South trade, this thesis seeks to understand the ways in which broader shifts in global trade are affecting the development of standards. As such, this thesis addresses the following research question: How are Southern social standards being shaped for Southern markets? The launch of Trustea in 2013 as a domestic market standard regulating social standards in the Indian tea industry is a fitting case study in which to explore this research agenda. The concept of polycentric trade is used to place the development of Southern standards within ever more complex global trade flows. Polycentric trade refers to the fact that production increasingly overlaps and intersects between global, regional and domestic production networks (Horner & Nadvi, 2017). The thesis argues that the primary actors involved in developing Trustea cannot be categorised as simply Northern or Southern organisations but in fact represent organisations that operate across North-South territorial boundaries. This is a response to the increasingly polycentric character of global trade which has prompted firms, state-based and civil society organisations to expand their organisational boundaries in order to benefit from the opportunities provided through the existence of overlapping production networks. Specifically, the findings bring about the notion of blurred boundaries when it comes to the categorisation of organisations who seek to shape and develop multi-stakeholder initiatives within a Southern context. Overall, the research presented in this thesis finds that in an era of polycentric trade, it is no longer possible to discuss the development of social standards governing Southern markets solely in terms of global and local actors and interests. Instead, it is necessary to illustrate the ways in which firms, state and civil society actors transcend the spatial boundaries of different end markets in response to broader transformations within trade in the 21st century.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorKhalid Nadvi (Supervisor) & Stephanie Barrientos (Supervisor)


  • governance
  • global development
  • regulation of labour

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